A very difficult cricketing adventure started for me on 28 August, along with my travel agent, Mr Roy Torrens. His first and only mistake was in not informing me that photographic identity was required to travel by EasyJet within Great Britain but, not for the only time within the next few days, his gift of the gab talked me safely aboard the plane.
The 1st round Cheltenham & Gloucester Cup match between Ireland and Berkshire took place at Finchampstead, halfway between Reading and Sandhurst - a beautiful ground deep in the English countryside. The perceived pre-match view was that the wicket looked fast and hard. I have rarely seen a club wicket that is fast and hard, so we won the toss and batted. Lo and behold, the wicket played slow and very low. The Irish batsmen, including our new superstar Jeremy Bray, managed to play with minimal footwork leading to a sub par total of 113, five of the dismissals being leg berfore decisions.
I have noticed that English umpires are more likely to put up the finger than Irish ones, not that too many of the decisions could be considered ropey - perhaps too many of our own umpires try to follow the lead of our best two of recent years, Paddy O'Hara and Trevor Henry, both "not-out merchants". Jeremy Bray and Andre Botha have now both played and qualified by residence for Ireland and are only the first two of a stream of overseas cricketers to come on stream over the next few seasons. We shall have to embrace them or we shall fall behind the rest of the emerging nations, who have gone down that road for years.
Ireland needed early wickets to stay in the game and got them, courtesy of Gary Neilly who bowled and excellent opening spell, one of many this year. His emergence has perhaps been the major plus of Irelands season.
There was a good crowd at the match, perhaps half of whom had travelled from Ireland, an encouraging trend in recent years. Among those in attendance were Graham Gooch, Keith Fletcher and John Emburey, three former England captains. They were there to cast an eye over Adrain McCoubrey. Unfortunately they stood beside the sightscreen at the end of which he was bowling and the pressure on the young man must have been intense. While he bowled reasonably well, taking a wicket, he was understandably not at his best and Berkshire's recovery from 57 for 6 owed much to this plus a disciplined innings from the most experienced man on either side, Paul Pritchard, the former Essex batsman, who saw Berkshire home with an unbeaten century.
After the game we discovered a 23 mile tailback on the M4 from Reading into London, so rather than start off the next morning to try to make Luton Airport for our 11 am flighty, we set offthat evening and used Mr Torrens persuasive tongue to get a good rate at a Luton hotel for ourselves and Mr and Mrs Alfie Linehan.
On arrival at Aldergrove, Roy and I set off for Limerick for the second half of our cricket trip. Irish President Owen McCann had organised a game in memory of Munster selector Ronnie Lawlor who tragically died 6 months ago. On arrival Roy and I were treated to a guided tour of the facilities at the University of Limerick. They are amazing and so good they are now used by English premiership rugby and soccer clubs for out of season training. The cricket in Limerick is not of such a high standard but people came from Dublin, Galway and Cork to play in the game which was an enjoyable event. Roy presented a cup for annual participation and Ronnie will now be fondly remembered forever thanks to two gentlemen, Mr McCann and Mr Torrens (hotel prices in Limerick also improved greatly!)